Homeschool Field Trip

Jul 13, 2003

by Terry Bowman

I shift the last piece of luggage in place, close the hatch, and step back to marvel that our overloaded van is not dragging the ground. After a mandatory pre-departure potty-break, boarding is complete—I make a mental note that the van is now sitting a few inches closer to the ground. Following a parting prayer, we are off! It has begun—another family vacation, or, as my wife, the teacher, refers to it, another homeschool field trip.

I pull onto the interstate, set the cruise control at seventy miles-per-hour, and breathe a deep sigh. After spending the last twenty minutes fighting traffic, I am ready to kick back and relax on a relatively empty four-lane highway—then it starts. My oldest son yells to the front, “Hey, Dad, how much farther?”

I take a deep breath, exhale, and reply, “Only about 500 miles.”

My middle child hollers to the front, “How far have we gone, Dad?”

I suppress a sudden twitch in my upper lip and respond gracefully, “About ten miles.”

My youngest child screams from the rear, “Hey Dad, when is the next pit-stop?” I bite my lip in irritation. It is at that moment that I realize I have grossly underestimated our travel time. Man, this is going to be a long trip. Several minutes later after pulling back onto the interstate following an emergency pit-stop, sounds of intense fellowship drift forward from the back seat. As father and principal, my ears perk up with keen interest as I listen to the very meaningful conversation.

“He touched me!”

 “Did not!”

 “Uh-huh!”

“Dad, tell her to stop looking at me.”

A thunderous roar emanates from the driver seat followed by peace, tranquility, and harmony—ah, family vacation.

Hotel rooms always present their own set of challenges—five people to one bathroom, five people to one bedroom, and a rollaway bed that claims all remaining space and draws my big toe like a magnet draws iron filings. Yeah boy. It’s another homeschool field trip!

Visiting the various sites and attractions is always a treat. My wife, Karen, and I always enjoy watching the reactions of each of our children. My oldest child, consumed with fact-finding, reads every plaque, every sign, and every display. My middle child walks around in amazement as he views the various sites—eyes as large as sand dollars and mouth gaping open—then pummels his parents with “What if…?” questions and “I bet…” statements. My youngest child never met a climbing surface she did not like—large boulders, trees, guard rails, concrete walls, and statues; they were all made just for her climbing pleasure.

Of course, mom and dad have typical responses as well. Dad reasons that if we have driven hundreds of miles just to see something, we ought to have a photograph of it. It is even a good idea to capture members of the family in a photograph once in a while—you know, to prove we were there. On the other hand, Mom, the eternal teacher, is constantly looking for an opportunity to squeeze every teachable moment out of every situation.

Karen and I carefully plan our field trips to enable us to see as much history as possible. Typically, I—the school principal—read several historical fiction books to the children prior to the trip. This provides the children with a good understanding of the physical setting, the customs of the day, and the significance of the events that took place. We have even watched videos, such as Gettysburg, prior to trips to reinforce our understanding of the event that took place.

We supplemented our colonial study with trips to the Jamestown Colony; the Lost Colony in Roanoke; a Cherokee Indian Village; Old Brunswick Town; Tryon Palace, where the kids played colonial baseball; and to Plymouth—“Lori, get off that rock!”

We visited numerous historic locations during our study of the Revolutionary War and the events leading up to it. We toured Old Williamsburg; Moore’s Creek Battleground; and Philadelphia, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Let me tell you. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. We visited Boston which is the site of the great tea party, Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, and a great historical walking tour—“Neal, stop reading all of those tombstones! We have to finish our tour before dark.” We also saw North Bridge at Concord and Lexington Green where the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired—“Yes, Mark. That must have been a really big gun.”

Our study of the Civil War took us to Charleston and Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began; to Fort Fisher, where the greatest naval battle of the war took place; and to Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War—“Yes, Mark. I bet there are a lot of lead bullets embedded in those trees.” We toured Arlington National Cemetery where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers now lie in peace on the same plot of ground, and visited the Lincoln Memorial—“Lori, get down from Abe’s lap!”

Field trips have provided other great educational opportunities. We learned about flight at Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers made aviation history. In Washington, DC, we saw the White House, the Capitol and numerous national monuments and museums—“Come on, Neal. You can’t read every word. We have three more museums to visit today.” We also learned how the Amish live, how cranberries are harvested and processed, how maple syrup and Vermont cheese are made, and how Hershey makes chocolate. In addition, our field trips have taken us to some spectacular views: the majestic and thunderous Niagara Falls; the breathtaking Portland Headlight, which is the most photographed lighthouse in North America; and Jockey’s Ridge, the great sand dunes of the Outer Banks.

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that we can couple field trips with family vacations. We can schedule the trips to avoid the crowds and take our time to thoroughly enjoy and explore each site. Well-planned family vacations can bring history to life. They reinforce textbook study by making history tangible and worth remembering.

Dreams of home sift through my mind as we pull from the hotel parking lot. Ah, we’re bound for home—home sweet home! I fall into a pleasant trance thinking about my own bed and pillow and my own bathroom. There will be no more loading the van, no more fast food restaurants, no more cramped living quarters, no more living out of suitcases and best of all, no more stumping my big toe on a rollaway bed. My thoughts of home are interrupted by a call from the back of the van, “Hey, Dad—how much farther?”

 

Terry Bowman is a part-time freelance writer. He and Karen, his wife of twenty years, make their home near Wilmington, NC with their three children: Neal, sixteen; Mark, fourteen; and Lori, eleven. The Bowmans have just finished their eighth year of homeschooling.

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